Stronger Review

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhall in Stronger
Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) loses both his legs after the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. Hailed as a hero by his hometown after he helps to identify the culprits, Bauman must begin a tumultuous journey to walk again, aided by his mother (Richardson) and girlfriend (Maslany).

by John Nugent |
Published on
Release Date:

08 Dec 2017

Original Title:


Hollywood has already rushed one dramatisation of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings to the screen — but while Peter Berg’s Patriots Day invented a composite cop character for us to root for, David Gordon Green’s Stronger chooses a more personal and more authentic route. Based on the painfully honest memoir by Jeff Bauman who lost both his legs because of the attack, the focus here is on the aftermath rather than the event itself — the bombing happens within the first half hour and the two terrorists responsible are never named or shown on screen. This is not their movie. It’s a survivor’s tale, and one that’s, refreshingly, unafraid to portray that survivor in a negative light when the situations demands it.

There’s still a definitive movie to be made around the Boston bombings.

Played with startling commitment by Jake Gyllenhaal, Jeff is a regular schlub, a funny but flawed man who self-medicates with booze and drugs, gets into bar fights, and passes out in pools of his own vomit. As he publicly becomes a symbol of the ‘Boston Strong’ ideal, privately he’s insecure, shirking his responsibilities and suffering from PTSD.

Bauman and his family are blue-collar Bostonites, and director David Gordon Green, whose curiously pendulous career has swung between indie dramas (Joe) and goofy stoner comedies (Your Highness), doesn’t shirk from this reality. Every scene with Jeff’s family crackles off the screen, offering the best and worst tropes of a Boston working-class family. They might sometimes seem clichéd, but Green pulls no punches in a warts-and-all approach.


Queen of this brood is Miranda Richardson as Jeff’s mother Patty, a pissed-up matriarch who bellows baritone Massachusettisms through puffs of cigarette smoke and glugs of cheap Chardonnay. If Jeff is a screw-up, Patty is the tree he fell from. Richardson’s larger-than-life turn might not be for everyone, but she’s impossible to ignore, and threatens to steal focus from everyone she shares a screen with.

This includes Tatiana Maslany, as Jeff’s on-off girlfriend Erin. Her performance is impressive, and equally as vulnerable as Gyllenhaal’s — but despite Stronger being

sold as a romance, her character occasionally feels like a motivational tool for Jeff to work towards. (Plus, the redemptive-power-of-love theme rings a little hollow when you learn that the real couple separated shortly after filming concluded.)

Things do veer into predictability in the final act as Jeff cleans up his act and begins to embrace the hero mantle with which he’s

been bestowed. At this point, what started as a sensitive study on trauma and its aftershocks devolves into a conventional Inspirational Prestige Drama, and it’s less interesting because of it. There’s still a definitive movie to be made around the Boston bombings — although Stronger does come close.

A deeply human and often brutally honest depiction of trauma and recovery, anchored by three superb performances — though it often falls victim to formula.
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us